Rocking the rainy day reads!

 

orangutan in rain umbrella

Look at me being all British, talking about the weather. And for a whole post as well- you’re in for a real treat 😉 Obviously cos I’m a Brit, when the topic of “rainy day reads” came up for Top Ten Tuesday, I thought it was excellent timing: it’s Spring. In England. Need I say more?

I also noticed that it was really cool how everyone’s answers seemed as changeable as the weather. Which makes sense- what makes one person feel cosy won’t work for another. And I was struck, as if by lightning, how great it is that we can all show off our varied tastes in this way. So, I decided to throw my brolly into the ring and share some of the things I like to read on a rainy day:

(yes I am not-so-sneakily doing this meme weeks late and on the wrong day 😉 )

LONNNNG BOOKS

war and peace

It seems like a good time to catch up on my reading, so maybe it’s time to tackle one of those hefty tomes!

Immersive Reads

six of crows duology

Otherwise, I like the books that really transport me to other worlds, that build a picture from scratch, that take me to far off and well imagined lands.

Long AND Immersive Books

mistborn series

Of course there are lots of books that fulfil both of those categories really nicely.

Something to reflect the GLOOM

wicked deep

On a rainy day, I really like the books that bring a level of *atmosphere* to the table.

***SUSPENSE***

rebecca

If I can’t go outside, I want something that’s really going to capture my attention and keep me glued to the page.

Urban Fantasy/Magical Realism

raven boys

This is another genre full of atmosphere and cool world building- and I especially love that feeling of being connected to the real world, while dipping my toes into fantasy.

Creepy worlds (especially dystopias)

hunger games

When the weather is grim, it seems like a good time to delve deeper in to dark recesses of the human mind… or I could go for something totally different like:

All the classics!

jane eyre

I don’t know why, but classics give me a cosy feel. Maybe it’s connecting to a time gone by or maybe it’s the abundance of pathetic fallacy in books like Jane Eyre 😉

Rereads

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_Cover

Nothing says cosy to me like a beloved book I’ve read so many times the pages are falling out! Perfect for feeling all warm inside!

So what about you- what’s your rainy day read? Long books, short books, or the random ramblings of a monkey? 😉 Let me know whatever you’re thinking in the comments!

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Shelving Projects

 

am writing

So, this year I was *supposed* to be using April’s Camp Nano to keep on top of my editing plans… and despite my workload doubling (haha what even is life anymore) I’ve somehow been edging closer to the end. Which has made me pretty reflective. Most notably, I’ve been thinking about the *terrifying prospect of shelving projects*.

No, I’m not shelving my current #overlyambitiousWIP, though I might put it on pause to deal with life stuff- but I figured as I’m in one of those typical writerly moods of what-am-I-even-doing? it was as good a time as any to get this off my chest. Frankly my thoughts on #overlyambitiousWIP often range from “I hope it’s okay?” to “arghhh what have I just done?!!?” (and that’s with censoring some of the *darker* “throw it on a bonfire” thoughts… although I guess I just told you 😉) Yet, even though 99% of the time I want to hide under my bed from that wicked writing beast, I do think there is a massive difference between general my-writing-sucks-anxiety and deciding to shelve a project.

Let’s go back in time, to when I was a wee monkey teen, and wrote my first novel… and then I wrote another… completing what I thought was going to be my #dreadedduology debut… E-x-c-e-p-t  that is a very misleading way to put it- cos I was never happy with that work and consequently didn’t think I’d ever be ready to send it off into the world (I just like the alliteration now 😉 ). I mean I edited them over and over and over again… yet something didn’t sit quite right. There were flaws *obviously*- because I was young and inexperienced (but also cos a lot of first books suck tbh and if they don’t I am in AWE).

And I’d like to say it was this that led me to put it aside. My perfectionist brain certainly wasn’t satisfied with what I’d produced- however ultimately there was another glaring issue that made me finally give up on ever feeling ready to query it or self-pub or beg friends to give it a go… it was that I lost the passion I had for it. And if I was no longer excited by it, how could I sell it to someone else? As painful as that realisation was, it was freeing to admit I’d fallen out of love with it and I felt like I had permission to let go of a project I just wasn’t feeling anymore.

Now, years on, I’m actually happy I didn’t share my earlier work. Because here’s the thing- even though a lot of us fret about the rush to publication before we reach adulthood, the reality is super young authors are outliers and there’s nothing wrong or strange or unusual about being a bit older in this space. And sometimes you’ll look back on your old work and think *phew, thank goodness that’s not floating out in the world*.

What I like to take away from all this is that it’s never a waste. Of course, there’s the fact that shelving a project isn’t necessarily forever, but more importantly, I learnt so much from the process. I feel like I should have figured this out earlier, cos I wrote a fairy telling just for practice/fun/to stretch my brain. Knowing I was never gonna share this novella not only made it easier to write in a slump, I also felt I had the freedom to make mistakes and get feedback on something I didn’t feel was my-heart-and-soul (let’s be real, we see most of our book babies that way). But somehow, it took shelving something to really take the pressure off. I realised there was a huge difference between my work then and my work now- and that the decision to abandon my old work marked a greater shift. It meant acknowledging a need to work harder, a desire to get better and at least enough self-awareness to admit when something is not *there* yet (which hopefully will help me improve!)

And thanks to that, I feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to my writing. I know I can fail and try again; I see the difference between trying to push for something I don’t love and persevering with something I believe in. After all, when it comes to those moments of self-doubt, I like to think of something Stan Lee said:

stan lee quote.png

For that reason, no matter how long it takes, no matter how often I’m derailed, no matter how much I sometimes question it, I’ll keep striving to finish my #overlyambitiousWIP… until the next time I have a freakout and worry it’s not good enough 😉

Hope you didn’t mind a slightly more rambly post! Now I’m wondering have you ever shelved a project? Do you agree or disagree with me here? Let me know in the comments!

Bloggers are Underrated

thoughts orangutan

Obviously, I’m biased, but here’s the thing: I’m not wrong 😉 Nowadays, it feels like bloggers are low hanging fruit, and everyone wants a piece. I barely go a week without seeing some disparaging comment about “what even is the point of bloggers” or “who even cares about bloggers” annnd I’m here to correct those assumptions- cos as a point of fact, bloggers are underrated. Here’s why:

book love belleEndless enthusiasm for books! Whether it’s in reviews/lists/discussions, bloggers have a way of creating continuous exposure and forming intense fandoms. Blogs are the perfect place to create superfans- which is why I believe some books with strong connections to the blogosphere have the power to do so well.

merlin books sharingCos, frankly, blogs are a brilliant place to cultivate organic interest. It’s not just that blogs have the ability to spread a book far and wide (and oh boy they do- a few book bloggers raving can get a book to spread like wildfire), blogs also manage to make that spread feel less like hype sometimes and more like fans sharing art. Which brings me onto…

book loveThe blogosphere is a wonderful place for readers! You can get some genuine advice on what to read and rave directly with someone else has loved a book. Feedback is super easy to get and real conversation is up for grabs. This is largely thanks to how interactive the blogosphere is, but also because…

friends hugThe community side is so strong. I personally believe it’s one of the more intimate platforms, with a greater connection to other readers and more meaningful engagement. This isn’t to disparage any other platform, cos everywhere has it’s “casual viewers”, but the format of a blog does lend itself really well to communication. And, even better, as we all like to point out regularly, this is one of the friendliest places on the internet. What’s so wonderful about blogging is how friendly everyone is- and this makes a huge difference. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it makes the reading experience so much more pleasurable (and, c’mon, it’s reading, it was already pretty darn awesome!!)

monkey typewriterBlogging also helps us writerly types to develop our craft further. Since we’re all lovers of the written word here, it stands to reason we’d enjoy reading other people’s posts and learning that way- PLUS we also get to improve our own skills every time we post. Really, it’s a win all round!!

 

mood reader 1And lastly, blogging is addictive! You’d probably have to prise our blogs from our cold dead hands 😉 Which doesn’t necessarily sound like a good thing, buuut having a blog quickly becomes a way of life. We put so much love and effort into our internet space- and that real commitment is why the blogosphere such a wonderful place to be!

 

 

 

In short, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it 😉 So do you agree? Are bloggers underrated? Let me know in the comments!

What even is YA?

thoughts orangutan

Eh- that’s a tough one.

There are all sorts of things that can go into a YA book: coming of age stories, themes around “firsts” and a heightened sense of emotion to name a few. One thing’s for certain- it has to be about *teens*. And not just people that start out as teens and then grow up, like in Assassin’s Apprentice, the protagonist should start and end a teenager for it to really fit in this category.

And I say category, because as Alexa Donne points out in her very comprehensive video on the topic, it’s more of a marketing category than a genre. Which means: anything goes. It’s the wild-west of the publishing industry these days (that ironically doesn’t put out many westerns 😉 )

Because of all this, there have been many instances of missmarketing. I could probably fill a post on the books that have somehow ended up in this category, even though they don’t belong, but here’s just a few:

Now, while a little part of me wants to be cynical and say this is a cash grab, the reality is a lot of teens enjoy this content. As a teen, I personally liked reading books that pushed boundaries and explored darker topics. I’d have most likely been insulted if you told me a book like, say the Book Thief, was technically not aimed at me and therefore off limits (and I’d have definitely read it anyway 😉 ).

Perhaps it is a reflection of this that YA has increasingly been exploring taboo topics.  For better or worse, younger readers have access to books with, dare I say, adult content. Books like A Court of Thorns and Roses is a great example of this- because it was written for adults and yet often mistaken for YA (in fact, I have never seen this book in any part of a library or shop that wasn’t the YA section!) Part of this is thanks to the failure of NA taking off (more for the industry than readers). But a larger part seems to be that the question of what’s appropriate for children has blurred beyond recognition- to the point where many can’t see the line between adult and young adult content anymore.

And while it can be a good thing that adults are buying YA- the expanding market means more books, more bookish industries and more opportunities for authors- it also means that they are the ones driving the market in this direction. Sales, after all, dramatically effect which books publishers choose to put out. This raises all sorts of issues- not least the continuing of this *I have no idea what YA even is anymore* trend.

So, with all that’s said and done, is the term becoming defunct? 

Well obviously not. As much as there have been discussions about the YA genre not doing as well last year, I don’t believe this is because the massive market that exists has gone anywhere (I have my own theories). This isn’t me saying it’s “too big to fail”- it’s merely acknowledging the fact that there will always be a market for high stake drama, with teens at the forefront, exploring the world with fresh eyes. And these are all aspects that this “genre” has in spades. It is also why adults and teens alike will continue to gravitate towards YA no matter what name you give it.

That was rather inconclusive. Looks like I did this whole post just to say who gives a monkeys about genre classifications 😉 In all seriousness, what does the term YA mean to you? Are you a fan of YA? Let me know in the comments!

In Defence of Fairy Tales: Why I *LOVE* Them

thoughts orangutan

It’s become a pretty common phenomenon to see fairy tales maligned in media. And, as you might have guessed from the title, I’m actually a fan. So that’s why I’ll be donning my warrior garb today, vaulting up a tower and springing to the rescue of this poor damsel in distress!

orangutan fairy tale knight in shining armour0003

Okay, maybe this won’t be quite that dramatic 😉 Now, obviously I want to make it clear (for all the people in the back) that this isn’t a defence of every story, iteration or idea in fairy tales- but of the overarching themes and genre as a whole. Nor am I pretending that the context of the stories being formulated or written down was a grand old time. I know this may be a little headspinning, but I’m genuinely not trying to take a broadbrush positive view to counterbalance the prevailing negative opinions- I’m simply trying to show how there’s a little more complexity to be had here. Without further ado, let’s get into why fairy tales rock:

They’re full of possibilities. Fairy tales aren’t nearly as straightforward as a lot of people seem to believe- they’re a mosaic of views and symbols that welcome multiple interpretations. While I largely disagree with some modern takes on fairy tales- and the holders of those beliefs no doubt disagree with me- it nonetheless proves my point: two people can easily read the same story and come out with wildly different readings. I would love it if more people that criticise fairy tales thought to themselves how else could this be interpreted? Because the mistake a lot of people that are dismissive of fairy tales make is that there’s *one* correct analysis- and this simply isn’t true.

There’s actually more than enough room for imagination when reading fairy tales. A lot of the time, they’re simplified to the point where they leave us with lots of questions- oftentimes leaving them unanswered. Again, I see people filling in the blanks, all the while not realising that they’re contributing to the tradition of orality and retelling that goes into making these stories (ooh err, getting very Death of the Author-y up in here- shout out to my English Lit homies 😉 ). These stories aren’t static; they’re constantly growing beyond the bounds of the page. Not to be too grim, but Hansel and Gretel may “live together in perfect harmony” (with the father who had “not had a happy hour since the day he had abandoned his children”), yet in this world of fairy tales happiness has already been shown to be fleeting. At the same time, there’s always the Gilbert and Gubar view that the hero inevitably morphs into the villain- hence showing that we create more than one meaning out of these stories. Thanks to their open-endedness, fairy tales are constantly being reimagined in our own minds- it’s our decision whether we see them as monstrous or not.

Fairy tales also present stories in their simplest form– and there’s always something to be said for the basic story structure. Still, while there’s an argument to be made that the traditional good vs evil dichotomy is a strong premise, fairy tales are often harder to pin down on closer examination. Take the story of Bluebeard: an evil husband that keeps killing his wives when they discover he’s a murderer. Supposedly designed to teach women to curb their curiosity, it nonetheless provides justification for the wife’s curiosity when he’s proven to be a murderer (and since murdering your wife wasn’t socially acceptable in Perrault’s day, one can assume this was as baffling then as it is now). Ergo, as much as one could claim fairy tales smack the reader over the head with their blatant morality, the problem is they often undermine themselves with their own complexity. The messages they entail may not be as rigid as first presumed.

That’s why they’re often viewed as educational for children. Some stories, like Little Red Riding Hood offer warnings at their most basic level, like “maybe don’t trust that dodgy stranger in the wood”. This in turn lends credence to Marina Warner and Karen Rowe’s views that these “old wives tales”, though written down by men, may have been composed for women by women. Furthermore, facing down these dangers in a safe environment could be seen as a positive exploration of a child’s psyche- indeed critics such as Bettelheim have argued this is crucial to a child’s development. As primordial narratives, the core of these tales often reflects on deeply embedded emotional struggles and makes sense out of the chaotic world. For that reason…

…they’re also suitable for adults 😉 All this, for me, goes back to how fairy tales run much deeper than many people realise. Again, I’m not saying there aren’t fairy tales that are as dodgy as hell (hello Basile’s Sleeping Beauty- yes I know someone’s going to refer to that). BUT that doesn’t mean it’s wise to dismiss such complex stories or reduce them down to terms and ideas that don’t necessarily hold up under scrutiny. As fashionable as it is to bash fairy tales, I can’t help but wonder where we would be without them.

And for once I have a (lazy) bibliography:

Barthes, Roland. “The Death of the Author”. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York, W. W. Norton and Company: 1322-1326

Bettelheim, Bruno. “The Struggle for Meaning”. The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. London: W.W.Norton and Company, 1998. 269-273. Print.

Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar. “Snow White and Her Wicked Stepmother”. The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. London: W.W.Norton and Company, 1998. 291-297. Print.

Rowe, Karen. “To Spin a Yarn”. The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. London: W.W.Norton and Company, 1998. 297-308. Print.

Warner, Marina. “The Old Wives’ Tale”. The Classic Fairy Tales. Ed. Maria Tatar. London: W.W.Norton and Company, 1998. 309-317. Print.

So- dare I ask- do you have any love for fairy tales? Let me know in the comments!

There is always room for lighter books

thoughts orangutan

A while back I wrote a post about the need for darkness in books. It’s a topic I have a lot of passion for as I’ve always hunger more for edgier reads. Not everyone agrees with me on that front (and that’s fine) so much so that I often see concerted efforts to sanitise books (which is not so fine)- hence my writing the “darkness” piece in the first place. That said, just because I want to preserve the murkier stories doesn’t mean I dislike cheerier works. In fact, I think the more the merrier! So let’s get into why lighter books are awesome:

laughter is the best medicineLaughter is the best medicine– yes, it may be a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason. In fact, one of my motivating factors to get this blog started was to have a laugh (sometimes at a book’s expense 😉 ). In all seriousness, I started this blog to revel in the JOY of reading and, as many of you can probably tell from my blog name, I was hugely inspired by Pratchett- the comic-fantasy master- and I certainly don’t read his work to be miserable 😉

otters holding handsAnd don’t we want to bask in some positivity from time to time? You know you do- I see you checking out puppy pics on twitter and sharing pictures of otters holding hands and enjoying the rare occasion when there’s a happy news story on TV. There’s a reason cat videos took off on youtube- cos cats are awesome and SECRETLY TRYING TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD ;). *Ahem*- just kidding- it’s because there’s a market for it.

dragon gifPlus, books aren’t just supposed to be about reality- they’re for escapism. Reading books is like hopping on a dragon to another world and taking a break from our lives. Given how dark everything can be nowadays, it can be a relief.

chill slothAt the same time, joyful books can be very real. Not everything has to be doom and gloom (I know, shocker, the real world is not so scary- at least not all the time 😉 ). Sometimes it’s nice to just chill out and think of the happier side of life.

 

because i'm happyAnd it’s not like whether a book is light or dark speaks to its quality. I’ve read my share of melodramatic bilge; I’ve also read my fair amount of delectable fluff. Whether it’s romantic or humorous or simply informative- a book doesn’t have to be grim in order to be brilliant. Even going by my ratings (and as I said earlier I lean more towards the dark side) I give out more than enough bananas for books that bring me pure pleasure.

Plus- and I’m gonna be brutally honest here- the idea you have to suffer for your art is pretty toxic. I have unfortunately met people in real life that think they have to be miserable for the sake of art. Now, do not misunderstand me: I think it’s really important people write from experience and are not guilted out of it AND I also believe people should let their imaginations run wild if they want to write something darker that they haven’t experienced. BUT I also feel like if you haven’t had the experience to write tastesomething messed up, you should know that you don’t have to put yourself through the wringer in order to be successful. Aside from the fact I’m a firm believer that everyone has something to draw on, my response to people struggling with this myth is consider writing something happy. To end on a similar note as my darkness in books piece: it’s all about balance and taste. There is no right or wrong here. The truth is, there’s space for sweet, salty and maybe even a little spice. Whatever flavour you choose is upto you 😉 And really, there’s no reason we can’t all be satisfied…

form50022

So do you agree or disagree with me here? And do you have a particular preference for dark or light books? Let me know in the comments!

STRONG female characters, Mary Sues and Manic Pixie Dream Girls… What the Heck is up with Female Characters in Books!?

thoughts orangutan

Hello all! So as you guys may know I was reading Kingdom of Ash recently. As the final book in a l-o-n-g series, you’d expect there to be some changes from the original works, and that’s fair enough. But there was one tiny issue that bugged me: most of the female characters had become warriors (though #notall). Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good kickass heroine and I didn’t by any stretch of the imagination dislike this book. Yet there were two things that struck me with this decision: a) Celaena, as she was originally known, stood out less than she had in previous books (where she’d been an exception to the rule in a world where there seemed to be few female fighters) and b) it kind of leans in to the idea that women *have to* be more masculine in order to be considered strong women.

Time and again, I’m finding that female characters are being type cast into the “strong” role of warrior. And it doesn’t seem to just be one character- it’s got to be the bulk of them. Regardless of whether the author wants to dress up this character in girly clothes and makeup, I don’t think there’s any denying the fact that their heroism predominately comes from their ability to kick ass and not their penchant for applying lipstick. Often it feels shoehorned in and doesn’t seem to be a necessary part of the character (like Clary in Mortal Instruments, who already had killer powers). It also doesn’t seem to matter if the world obeys the laws of earthly biology or not- it seems to be something we have to accept the predominance of the warrior woman in the large bulk of genre fiction (especially fantasy/sci fi, but even in historical fiction as well). Unfortunately this mentality seems to bleed into real life- I can’t tell you how many times (mostly male/female feminists) have criticised me for not being physically strong. Because, in case you didn’t know, I’m a regular girly monkey who doesn’t have the superhuman ability to kick butt.

orangutan in dress

Guess I’ll just use any excuse to get dressed up 😉

Evidently, I’m not crazy about this trend for many reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Buffy growing up and like the occasional Wonder Woman style heroine. I also think this can really work in the fantasy genre- such as with characters like Nona from Red Sister, who come across as representations of shadow and myth. HOWEVER, I don’t recall it being the case that these were the *main* and *only* kind of female characters. Even when it came to Buffy, there were a bunch of other roles fulfilled by female characters. And thank goodness for that- because Buffy wasn’t the character I gravitated towards anyway! I’ll let you in on a not-so-surreptitiously held secret: I always identified the most with adorkable-brainy-oddball Willow- cos that’s who I found relatable. And this is a bit of a trend for me. While Tamora Pierce is famous for her Lioness character, I fell in love with Daine from Wild Magic. I adored the heroines in books by Eva Ibbotson- who never went raging to war but were fearless nonetheless. And I know that a few of the heroines in Game of Thrones fall into this super strong type- yet I love the series because it plays with every type it introduces and never presents a singular view of people.

A lot of the reasons this arose in the first place was a desire to challenge the status quo, to create something different and be appealing to a wider audience. And yet it’s not relatable; and somehow it has become a type. Regardless of whether they wear dresses or not, this STRONG female character is close to becoming a caricature just like any other irritatingly unrealistic representation. Many might have heard of terms like Mary Sue and Manic Pixie Dream girls getting (over)used all over the internet. What I understand about people that have problems with both of these, is that it’s irritating to see so many poorly conceived female characters. Naturally, these don’t simply apply to female characters- there’s always the people who shout “sexist” first and ask questions later (fyi for all those offended by the term Mary Sue, Marty Stus are a thing as well). And of course sometimes the criticism can be unearned- such as the infamous example of 500 Days of Summer using the Manic Pixie Dream girl trope… when it’s actually a deconstruction of that idea. Also, naturally, as in the case of unfinished or contentious works, these terms can be open to debate (as much as I’d like to insist that Rae from Star Wars is 100% a Mary Sue). So, whether in reading or writing, I think it’s good to be careful how we apply these terms- because boy is it frustrating to see characters reduced to nothing more than a trope.

If I was a lonely voice in the crowd, one could say I was a random butthurt woman (or “wahmen” 😉 ) blowing things out of proportion. Yet, I don’t seem to be the only one who thinks this way. In recent years, I’ve seen amazing articles from fellow readers like the lovely Kelly over at Another Book in the Wall, and videos from the likes of the Authentic Observer and even Jordan Harvey on similar topics. I know there are so many more- so forgive me if I left any obvious ones out. Point is: perhaps the zeitgeist of public opinion is changing. Maybe, just maybe when people were crying out for different types of female characters, they weren’t looking to be type-cast into yet another role. All I have ever wanted in fiction is believable, interesting and realistic characters. Wielding a sword is optional.

lagertha fighting.gif

Hope you didn’t mind my somewhat rambly thoughts- I just wanted to get all this off my chest. What do you think about this trend? How do you like your female characters? Let me know in the comments!